Having breast pain may set off alarm bells, but more often than not there is no need for concern. Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, affects up to 2/3s of women in the UK, mostly between the ages of 30 and 50. The pain can range from feelings of soreness or heaviness to burning sensations on the upper, outer or lower part of the breast, or even the armpit.
Common causes of breast pain include…
Cyclical breast pain – This type of mastalgia is related to the menstrual cycle. Although the exact cause is unknown, it may have something to do with hormone fluctuations that typically occur 7-10 days before your period. If affects some women more than others, and usually subsides once the period has begun.
This type of breast pain can also affect people on hormonal treatments such as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or the contraceptive pill.
Mastitis – this condition affects breastfeeding women and can cause the breast tissue to become swollen and painful. Mastitis is often caused by a build-up of bacteria in the milk duct.
Although painful, mastitis can be treated with plenty of rest, fluids and over-the-counter painkillers and in some cases antibiotics. If you are breastfeeding, ensure the baby is properly latched to the nipple.
Breast lumps – Some women have fibrocystic breasts (lumpy breast tissue) formed of fluid-filled cysts. Most of these are benign and not a cause for concern, although they may cause pain, particularly around the time of menstruation.
If you are worried about unusual breast lumps, visit your doctor who may perform a mammogram (x-ray or the breast), ultrasound scan or, in certain cases,a biopsy (taking a small sample of breast tissue for analysis).
Extramammary breast pain – breast pain may be caused by pain from another part of the body, such as a pulled chest muscle.
Ill-fitting bras – wearing the wrong-sized bra can cause breast and back pain, either by failing to support you or by pushing uncomfortably against the breast tissue with underwiring. If you’re not sure you are wearing the correct size then read our guide to measuring bra size.
Medications – some non-hormonal medications, such as those for high blood pressure, hair loss, acne and certain diuretics, can cause pain.